The Incidental Tourist.

I have a nagging feeling that time alters space. Sometimes, if I think about it long enough, I wonder if somewhere down that line of enquiry lies the secret of time travel.

Standing at the Hogarth Roundabout in Chiswick, I glanced at my watch, If I hurried, I could hare across to Hampton Court for a quick tour before I had to head home to pick up the kids.

Half an hour later on this overcast Autumnal day I stood at the palace’s triumphal entrance. I had 45 minutes. I felt like I was about to embark on one of those supermarket trolley dashes: first prize: all you can stuff unceremoniously into your consciousness in three quarters of an hour.

I usually arrive at peak tourist time, trailing children agitating to visit the maze and the haunted gallery. There are usually queues and people milling about speaking all the languages of Babel. The place crackles with wonder and awe. Here, proclaim the walls, Henry VIII romanced the Boleyn girl.

But today, I was alone, and  the school parties were the only ones there: a few sparse trails of children, obediently traipsing after teachers, every child dressed the same.

And when they were not around, there was almost not another soul.

It was virtually deserted.

Hampton Court? All to myself? I wanted to push the trolley in six different directions. But it is as well to note that when the public recede, the whispers from the past advance, like the shallows of an ocean fringed with inquisitive briny fingers.

I had already done my research on the Youtube ghost, witnessed at a little known pair of fire doors on three consecutive days in 2002. Whoever she was, she shot to global stardom. For a little while, the world was talking about the one who flung the doors open and then appeared to shut them once again, though no human was seen approaching or leaving the corridor.

To find the doors, you must walk past a large and impressive exhibition, to the very back where there is a small auditorium and  a bar. And as soon as I saw the doors beyond,  I had an immediate urge to take a picture and leave very quickly indeed, and backing out I returned to the clock tower square.

The light was dim, as I headed to the haunted gallery. It is always packed with crowds, with people three-deep looking at the opulent portraits painted for Henry VIII, and with people standing trying to sense something. They might as well look for a needle in a haystack: no self respecting spirit is going near that rabble.

But when I got to the gallery, time had altered this place. It was virtually deserted.

I was like a small child in a sweetie shop. And as I took pictures from every conceivable angle the red-coated attendant seemed genuinely happy for me. He grinned. I grinned back.

“I’m not used to having this place all to myself!” I proclaimed delightedly, and he agreed joyously.It must be strange guarding a gallery from no-one at all.

I was famished. I repaired to the Privy Kitchen for an excellent beef pasty and a mug of tea. And then, I wound back through the dark covered ways which skirt the palace, and would once have kept the nobles’ finery dry.

And there she was. Catherine of Aragon, carrying her lunch in a plastic bag.

She advanced like a wraith out of the light at the end of the passage into the gloom. It is to her credit that the plastic bag did not rustle, and that when I began to take photographs she concealed her lunch behind her gorgeous Tudor finery.

It’s not every day Catherine of Aragon hides her sandwiches for you.

I hope she had a nice lunch.

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41 thoughts on “The Incidental Tourist.

  1. hahaha shame about the sandwiches ;) Sounds like a wonderful afternoon, though the company of one other person would have been good – I would have been feeling a little uneasy by myself – haha – but then I do have an overactive imagination (as do you me thinks). A fine collection of photos here with your regaled story.

  2. Wow. You have captured the spookiness very well indeed.
    Did I tell you that Princess Di was one of the many who glanced up at the ghost on their way through? She didn’t know it was one, though. Only Security (of which my friend was one) knew it had been, after the ‘trespasser’ impossibly vanished.

      1. I’ve often thought about writing a book about that. We used to see a man on the dark road to our village on Winter nights in Cornwall. Pitch black, inclememnt, and there he was: looking strangely phased, or unconnected. Always thought he might be a candidate for being a ghost.

  3. As always, I loved the pics, Kate: beautifully composed and very atmospheric shots, chockful of the kind of magic that gives me a vicarious thrill and perfectly complementing the text. I have to echo the constant cry, how do you do it so exquisitely, day after day, these little observational jewels?

    1. Thank you, Chris! I shall sellotape your comment to my hat and walk around with it on show :-D You know that this country has stories just lying around like pebbles on a beach. I just pick one up every day and polish it a bit.

  4. Gorgeous photos and you sure had a wonderful time being able to explore almost on your own. I must say that when you wrote that “And there she was. Catherine of Aragon, carrying her lunch in a plastic bag.”, I thought that you were seeing a ghost. Of course, you would not lead us to that conclusion intentionally…..right? :)

    1. If you look very carefully at the far-off shots, Nancy, you will see the bag. She was so gracious to hide it for the close-up. It must have been the end of a trying day, what with all those schoolchildren.Bet the real Catherine never had to put up with that.

  5. I am dying to go to Hampton Court, Kate, and you are not helping. :) I’m glad you didn’t run into any ghosts and still got to meet the lovely Catherine. I always felt sorry for her. I visited her grave in Peterborough Cathedral once.

    1. I have never seen it, Andra: I shall put it on my list. I shall whoop for joy the day you are able to make it over to Hampton Court. And pack a huge hamper to take to the member’s apartment.

  6. I suppose Catherine of Aragon got some kind of astral revenge. After Henry VIII went through all those nasty shenanigans and wound up with six wives, his son Edward died at age 16, I believe, and Catherine’s daughter Mary got to be queen after all. I suppose Catherine wouldn’t be so glad about Elizabeth getting the throne next. But at least the girls got their shot at the throne after all that marital madness with Henry trying to get a male heir. Girls 2, boys 0 sort of.

    1. Gale, you set me thinking when I first read this. Mary was not a particularly charismatic queen, unlike her siblings. I will never get the answer to my question: how much of Catherine’s personality did Mary inherit?

    1. It is my great luxury at the moment, Penny, and I don’t know how long it will last: a day to myself to do with as I please. Fate has placed me in the middle of some of the most well-known locations in the world: visiting them, and sharing what I find, is what gives me the strength to live at breakneck speed in every other area of my life.

  7. I was educated by the Marist fathers in a school in Hull. One of the fathers told us of a ghost which used to appear in one of their schools. It used to come through a closed door into the school library, go to a shelf, reach out to take a book, and vanish. When they realised which book this ghost had been trying to reach, they took it out from the shelf, whereupon a piece of paper fell out of the book on which was written details of a Mass, requested but unsaid. The Mass was duly said annd the ghost never appeared again.
    “More things in Heaven and Earth”
    Love Dad

  8. What a wonderful day! It’s amazing what you were capable of experiencing in just 45 minutes. And it is indeed rare that I am ever alone in any gallery, yet I long to be! How delightful, Kate. I have thought of the “the ghost” many times since you mentioned her before. Maybe next time… :-)

  9. It’s good to get some time to yourself in any histroic place or museum – without it you don’t get to feel all the nuances of the place or the items on display. Believe it or not, there’s a certain frisson to walking through a quiet engine shed. There is something alive there within the machinery – the spirit perhaps of those who built them?

    1. I’d love to try that, Martin. I have been teaching the power of steam, and the way it changed the British way of life, to my nine and ten year olds at school. To spend time quietly with one of those great iron horses. Now that would be something.

  10. So enjoyed this Kate. What wonderful writing … “the whispers from the past advance, like the shallows of an ocean fringed with inquisitive briny fingers.” The term that pops into my mind is “3D writing”, at least that is what it feels like to me.

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